The Rams’ offense has plagued them all season. Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns was no exception, with the striking difference between the defense (playoff caliber) and the offense (currently 31st in the league) once again put on display. If it weren’t for the efforts of RB Todd Gurley (and the D), the outcome of this game might have been a lot closer than 24-6 in favor of the Rams.
Throughout the 2015 season, I’ll be tracking five key team statistical measures, and their affect on the outcome of every Rams game: Turnover Differential, Big Play Differential, Points Per Drive Differential, Team Penalty Yards Differential, and the score of the game at half-time. When combined, Turnover Differential and Big Play Differential creates a statistic commonly referred to as “Toxic Differential”.
Why were these five particular metrics selected for tracking throughout the 2015 season? Turnovers and Big Plays have proven to be influential in determining the outcome of a game. There’s a historically strong correlation between Points Per Drive Differential and a teams regular season record. The score at half-time and Team Penalty Yards Differential were selected specifically with the Rams in mind. There appears to be a strong correlation between the score at half-time and the Rams’ win/loss record. The Rams – under Jeff Fisher – have been among the league leaders in penalties, to their detriment.
St. Louis Rams 2014 Statistical Records
Points per Drive Differential: 6 games positive – Record 5-1. 10 games negative – Record 1-9.
Turnover Differential: 3 games positive – Record 3-0. 6 games negative – Record 0-6. 7 games even – Record 3-4. 4 games without a turnover – Record 4-0.
Big Play Differential: 6 games positive – Record 3-3. 10 games negative – Record 3-7.
Penalty Yards Differential: 4 games positive – Record 3-1. 12 games negative – Record 3-9.
Score At Half-Time – The Rams were leading or tied at the half in 11 games last season. The Rams’ record was 6-5 in those games. The Rams lost all 5 games where they were behind at the half. In fact, the Rams haven’t won a game in the past two seasons unless they were tied or winning at half-time.
It’s a widely held belief that winning the turnover battle is important to a teams success on the field. The Rams finished with 6 wins in 2014. The team had a positive turnover differential in 3 of those wins, and a zero differential in the other 3 victories. Overall, the Rams finished 19’th in Turnover Differential (minus -2) last season.
The Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots finished 3rd in Turnover Differential (plus +12) while the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks finished 4th (plus +10). Over the 2014 NFL season, the average Turnover Differential among NFL teams was zero (0). The top 5 NFL teams averaged a Turnover Differential of 11.2, while the bottom 5 teams averaged a Turnover Differential of -12.2.
Turnovers played a key role in Sunday’s game against the Browns. The Rams forced four fumbles, one of which was returned for a TD early in the game (returned by Rodney McLeod after being forced by Janoris Jenkins). The Rams never looked back. Their only turnover was a fumble by Jared Cook deep in Cleveland territory. It likely made the game closer than it could have been. For the game, the Rams were a plus +3 in Turnover Differential.
After 6 games, the Rams rank tied for 5th in the league in Turnover Differential (+4). The Rams are 2-1 in games with a positive Turnover Differential and 1-2 in games with an even or negative Turnover Differential.
|1||New York Giants||16||6||10|
|3||Green Bay Packers||10||4||6|
|4||New England Patriots||8||3||5|
|5||St. Louis Rams||13||9||4|
|6||New York Jets||15||11||4|
|15||Kansas City Chiefs||9||8||1|
|16||New Orleans Saints||11||11||0|
|19||San Francisco 49ers||7||7||0|
|23||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||9||11||-2|
|29||San Diego Chargers||7||13||-6|
Team Penalty Yards Differential
In 2014, the Rams were the 3rd most-penalized team in the NFL, averaging 7.7 Team Penalties Per Game (the same average as 2013). The Rams led the league in most penalty yards (1139), and were 30’th in the league in Team Penalty Yards Differential (-257).
For a team that would like to keep the ball on the ground, penalties all too often force that team into a passing situation. Penalties kill drives, contribute to bad field position and can change momentum in a game. In an average NFL game, the officials will call between 12-14 penalties per game (both teams combined). The Rams’ goals should be to have no more than 6 penalties per game, plus a positive Team Penalty Yards Differential.
The Rams committed far too many penalties in the game against the Browns (9 penalties totalling 75 yards). The neutral zone penalties committed by the Rams’ defensive line were totally unacceptable. Fortunately for the Rams, the Browns were even more undisciplined, racking up 11 penalties for 98 yards. For the game, the Rams had a plus +23 Penalty Yards Differential.
Through 6 games, the Rams rank 17th in the NFL in Penalty Yards Differential (+9), a dramatic improvement over 2014’s results. The Rams are 2-1 in games with a positive Penalty Yards Differential and 1-2 in games with a negative Penalty Yards Differential.
|Rank||Team||GP||Pen Yds||Opp. Pen Yds||Pen Yds Diff||Pen Yds Diff/Game|
|4||New England Patriots||6||387||513||126||7.88|
|6||San Diego Chargers||7||425||506||81||5.06|
|13||San Francisco 49ers||7||264||302||38||2.38|
|14||New York Giants||7||403||439||36||2.25|
|16||Kansas City Chiefs||7||379||401||22||1.38|
|17||St. Louis Rams||6||338||347||9||0.56|
|21||New York Jets||6||370||347||-23||-1.44|
|24||Green Bay Packers||6||380||340||-40||-2.50|
|28||New Orleans Saints||7||500||356||-144||-9.00|
|32||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6||533||305||-228||-14.25|
Big Play Differential
Big Play Differential is the difference between the number of big plays – running plays of 10+ yards plus passing plays of 25+ yards – an offense creates, and the number of big plays a defense allows. How important are big plays to a teams offense/defense? Last season, NFL teams averaged 0.8 points per drive without a big play, and 3.9 points per drive with at least one of them. The higher the big play +/- the better as this shows the team more often generates big plays than gives them up.
In the game against the Browns, the Rams had 6 Rushing Big Plays (courtesy of another outstanding performance by Todd Gurley) and 1 Passing Big Play. The Rams defense allowed Cleveland only 4 Big Plays in total, none of which created any real damage. The Rams had a plus +3 Big Play Differential for the game.
After 6 games, the Rams rank tied for 7th in the league in Big Play Differential (+9), mostly thanks to the efforts of RB Todd Gurley. The Rams are 3-2 in games with a positive Big Play Differential and 0-1 in games with a negative Big Play Differential.
|Rank||Team||Plays||Big Plays||Rush||Pass||Big Play %||BPA||+/-|
|11||New York Jets||406||34||25||9||8.37%||22||12|
|3||St. Louis Rams||322||34||25||9||10.56%||25||9|
|1||Green Bay Packers||361||39||22||17||10.8%||33||6|
|16||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||374||29||20||9||7.75%||28||1|
|17||New England Patriots||395||30||14||16||7.59%||29||1|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||412||38||23||15||9.22%||39||-1|
|10||Kansas City Chiefs||441||37||19||18||8.39%||40||-3|
|27||New York Giants||443||28||17||11||6.32%||37||-9|
|30||San Diego Chargers||501||28||12||16||5.59%||40||-12|
|25||New Orleans Saints||495||32||19||13||6.46%||46||-14|
Points Per Drive Differential
Points Per Drive Differential is a derivative of Points Scored/Allowed. It measures the number of points generated/allowed on an average drive. 13 teams reached the playoffs/won 10 games in 2014. 10 of them finished in the top dozen in Points Per Drive Differential.
Successful teams with winning records are normally the most efficient – both offensively and defensively – and consistently generate positive PPD Differentials. The higher the points per drive the better, and in theory the highest this statistic could be is 8, which would occur if a team scored a touchdown AND a two point conversion every time they have the ball.
In the game against Cleveland, the Rams scored 17 points on 12 drives (1.42 PPD), a less-than-stellar result for the offense. The Browns scored 6 points on 13 drives (0.46 PPD), an outstanding result for the Rams’ defense. For the game, the Rams had a plus +0.96 Points Per Drive differential.
Heading into Week 8, the Rams rank 16th in the league in Points Per Drive Differential (-0.13). The main reason for the low ranking is the performance of the offense, which is tied for 31st in the NFL in Points Per Drive. The Rams are 3-0 in games with a positive Points Per Drive Differential and 0-3 in games with a negative Points Per Drive Differential.
Score At Half-Time
There was a semblance of Jekyll (the first half) and Hyde (the second half) in most of the Rams’ games last season. The teams’ point differential in the first half of games: plus 58. In the second half of games: minus 88. The Rams were leading or tied at the half in 11 games last season. The Rams’ record was 6-5 in those games. The Rams lost all 5 games where they were behind at the half. In fact, the Rams haven’t won a game in the past two plus seasons unless they were tied or winning at half-time. In their two earlier victories this season, the Rams were either tied or leading at the half.
The Rams once again held true to form in the game against the Browns. In a closely played first half, the Rams went into the locker room winning 10-3. The Rams’ stout defense held the Browns to 3 points in the second half and Todd Gurley did the rest, in a 24-6 Rams victory. In an interesting reversal of form, the Rams (in contrast to 2014) are playing better football overall in the 2nd half of games when compared to the first half of games. In six games this season, the Rams have outscored their opponents 65-57 in the second half, while being outscored 62-43 in the first half. The Rams are 3-0 this season when leading or tied at the half, and 0-3 when behind starting the 3rd quarter.
|Week||Turnover Diff.||Big Play Diff.||PPD Diff.||PY Diff.||Half-Time||Game Score|
|1||Negative||Positive||Positive||Positive||10 10||Won 34-31 OT|
|2||Positive||Negative||Negative||Negative||0 17||Lost 24-10|
|3||Even||Positive||Negative||Negative||3 9||Lost 12-6|
|4||Positive||Positive||Positive||Negative||10 9||Won 24-22|
|5||Negative||Positive||Negative||Positive||10 14||Lost 24-10|
|7||Positive||Positive||Positive||Positive||10 3||Won 24-6|
Positive results across the board equate to a decisive win for the Rams against the Cleveland Browns. 3rd down conversions (31st in the league) and Red Zone scoring (24th in the league) continue to be problematic for the Rams’ offense.
Rams win despite 24:27 time of possession, ran just 51 plays, 1-for-9 on third down and four three-and-outs.
— Howard Balzer (@HBalzer721) October 25, 2015
The Rams are exhibiting some of the traits of a classic bend but don’t break defense:
Rams are first in the league in red zone defense, allowing TDs on only 33.3 percent of opponents’ possessions inside the 20.
— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) October 26, 2015
Pro Football Focus Player Grades
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Rams’ 24-6 win at home against the Browns.
St. Louis Rams
– Quarterback Nick Foles (-0.4) wasn’t forced to do much with the football, thanks largely to Todd Gurley (+4.7) and the Rams’ defense. While Foles didn’t make any interception-worthy throws, he didn’t have any particularly great passes, outside of one deep pass to Kenny Britt (0.4), either. When Foles was under pressure, he only managed to complete 42.9 percent of his passes; when he had a clean pocket to work from, that rose to 75.0 percent and 141 yards.
– First-round pick Todd Gurley (+4.7) showed why the Rams where willing to break the trend of not drafting a RB high. Gurley forced 11 missed tackles in the run game, which is the highest amount by any runner on running plays this season. To go along with his missed tackles, Gurley averaged 5.8 yards after contact per attempt, gaining over 100 yards alone after contact.
– The Rams’ defensive line was expected to cause the Browns trouble, and they did, but it came from the unexpected duo of William Hayes (+5.1) and Ethan Westbrooks (+3.7); both did most of their damage versus Mitchell Schwartz (-4.7), who, up to this point, was having a good season. Between both Westbrooks and Hayes, they recorded three sacks and seven hurries (not all against Schwartz).
DL William Hayes (+5.1)
RB Todd Gurley (+4.7)
DL Ethan Westbrooks (+3.7)
CB Janoris Jenkins (+3.1)
CB Lamarcus Joyner (+2.0)
– Josh McCown (-0.8) did not push the ball downfield, outside of one pass that was called back due to a hold. McCown did not attempt a single pass over 20 yards, and only seven of his 32 pass attempts went beyond 10 yards. McCown was very accurate with his targeted passes; out of his six incompletions, only three of those resulted from poor throws. While McCown only missed on three passes, he did very little with the throws he made, because the Browns where consistently in long down and distance; the Rams gave up the short play and consistently made the tackle short of the sticks.
– First round pick Danny Shelton had the best game of his young career. While nothing showed up on the stat sheet, he was able to take on blockers and cause issues in the middle, forcing very little success when the point of attack was either middle-left or middle-right; the Rams only gained 17 yards on these two points of attack.
– With the Browns’ passing attack struggling to push the ball down the field, rookie RB Duke Johnson (+2.6) had room to work out of the backfield. Johnson averaged 10 yards after the catch, working well to find creases in the Rams’ defense. The only other player who had any success in the passing game was Gary Barnidge (+2.4). Barnidge gained 101 yards on six receptions. Seemingly the norm now with Barnidge, the tight end was able to come down with another great catch. On a pass that was overthrown, he was able to tip the ball up to himself to gain 20+ yards.
DL Randy Starks (+4.3)
P Andy Lee (+2.6)
SS Donte Whitner (+2.4)
TE Gary Barnidge (+2.4)
LB Chris Kirksey (+1.5)